Friday, April 22, 2011

Who is this King?

Even when he was sitting astride the donkey, Jesus knew what the others did not- where the road would go after the parade. From excitement in the air, and people craning to see, asking,"Who is this?" To the same question asked over and over again, by the Jewish leaders, by Pilate, by soldiers, in the events of that week in Jerusalem.

Who is this "King of the Jews" anyway?

As the final drama begins to unfold, Matthew’s story inverts the notion of who this King is and how we treat him, leading to the cross on the outskirts of town.
After the betrayal has occurred, and the trial is over. After the onlookers and disciples are gone. We find ourselves, if we dare to stop here, in the moments after the sentencing and before the crucifixion. The Passion of our Lord.

“Passion” in this sense is “the condition of being acted upon”- of letting others do to you; and also the “endurance of suffering.” Any of these speak to what Jesus knew would and must come, even as He regally sat astride the donkey. And as he now stands seemingly at the mercy of the soldiers. This is a King? Hardly a figure of power!

Maybe the soldiers acted on orders, or maybe they got carried away. After all, what's a little excessive force when national security is involved? “They say this guy is the ‘King of the Jews’ – that militant on the list.”Everyone stands poised to play their roles as the players take the stage.

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters”- the curtain comes up on Jesus truly living out this “passion.” He apparently says nothing, and if he cries out it hasn't been recorded in what happens at the governor’s headquarters, located just beyond the temple wall, in the shadow of the Holy of holies.

From his birth, called the King of the Jews, by those who hope that he is not. His mere existence threatens the prescribed power struture. “You want to be a King? We have a way of dealing with Kings here.” And we need to because it's the Passover, and we need to keep an eye on this would-be king. Who does he think he is?

Can we imagine watching the spectacle unfold? This deadly dance exposed in the courtyard, not tucked away in some dark dungeon. Publicly, in the shadow of the sacred and holy spaces of the Temple. Mere feet away, yet we want to turn a blind eye and erect a wall of silence.

“They gathered all of the cohort over him.” Not a few men like we might imagine, but an entire military unit of as many as 600 men there to quell any potential uprising. As many as 600 men--- and one of Jesus. Can we picture that? Will we dare?

Tom Wright suggests many of the men may have seen buddies killed by these rebels. Tired of being away from home, and longer than they thought. Maybe a few begin, at first, but the number swells as people want to see what will happen with this potentially dangerous militant.

Once the energy emerges, group frenzy takes over. They're not just around Jesus, but over him, both physically and psychologically. The just-flogged Jesus perhaps crumpled and lying in a heap, dragged from one place to another...maybe on his knees before them.. powerless.

But, they say he is “dangerous.”
The next thing you know, they are “Stripping him.” This perverse and demented drama includes a costume change. Did they immediately put that cloak on him, or was it a part of the sport of it all and the humiliation of nakedness?

The king deserving a royal robe, ironically forced to wear a military robe in a battle where he's been drafted into service.

The king, forced to endure the taunts and jeers he knew there would be.
“Where’s your power now, King?”

“After twisting some thorns into a crown they put it on his head.” Anguishing mental cruelty carried out in a slow, protracted hell that seems to have no end in sight.

“And they placed a reed in his right hand.” Not a stick, or a sword, or even an object of substance. A flimsy, breakable reed, which will be bent to inflict the ultimate insult in Jesus’ day- slapping his face. What a great way to settle scores by those resentful of the hordes of the occupied who have shown disdain for the soldiers.

Well, who's in charge now?

"Kneeling before him they mocked him”, the one to whom kings once traveled, who was worshipped with gold, now reviled and ridiculed in this reversal of how it all began so long ago. Gifts of honor twisted by sick humor as soldiers pay a warped homage to their victim.
How long did it take to get the reed, and the crown of thorns?
How long as one by one each added his own tribute to the king?
“Hail! King of the Jews” A juvenile and cruel take on the honor shown to Caesar. Maybe they even forced him to process and receive their accolades.

This mockery, repeated mass mockery that one writer has suggested,offers us a commentary about words as instrument of torture. Maybe they threatened and taunted Jesus, about his appearance, his people, his religion, his family. Threats, lies. Warfare designed to make a man break, to finish the destruction of his soul.

Not one person, or one comment, but a swarm of angry, bullying men, each taking turns in this pageantry of destruction.
Hail!“Long live the King"- the one we are about to kill.

How long does it go on? Does Jesus begin praying for sweet death to just come?

They begin “ spitting upon him.” Once baptized and anointed, now passed from one person to another each inflicting pain, until he begins to be unrecognizable.

But now this drama is closing – the gifts are taken back-“They took the reed and struck his head."
“And when they have finished, they strip him of the cloak.
This performance will soon be done.

“They put his own clothes back on him.” He is led away to die.

Who is this King of the Jews? Rejected by those who insist “he is not our king!”
Refused by those who claim- “you cannot be king!”

Who can we see as the curtain falls in this sad and sordid drama?
So horrific yet we did not intervene. Watching the group, knowing it's wrong, but captivated anyway.

Have you ever seen someone being mistreated but decided it was none of your business, and turned away?
Walking away quickly, head averted?

We'd like to believe this kind of wicked brutality was limited to this story.
But whose face is it we see in the bullied, the misunderstood, the tortured, and the ridiculed in our world?
Who is this King of the Jews?
Do we see him today?

While those in charge will conveniently have no recollection of the events, will we remember?

"Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee."

Thanks be to God it's not the final chapter

But, still we ask- Who is this King?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your hands, Lord

The washing of the feet
Ghislaine Howard (b.1953 ) Acrylic 2004 Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.40

John 13
Jesus knew what he had to do, what he would endure- and that it was in his hands. When things are in our hands, what do we choose? What would we have chosen if things had been in our hands? We probably would not have chosen to strip away the dirt and grime of others. To personally embrace all of those dirty, stinky, gnarled and calloused others. And to love them anyway.
As he went along he could no longer see his face in the reflection of the water, just all of the dirt churning.

We probably wouldn't choose to continue to be patient with those who were slow to get it, who were rude and insistent. We surely would not embrace the chronically irritating. We most definitely would not embrace those who would betray us behind our backs- who already had. And to love them anyway.
As he listened he could tell he could no longer be heard over all of their self-absorbed concerns.

And after he washed their feet, we do not hear that anyone washed his, or even that he cleaned himself up, getting rid of all that dirt. We hear only that he got up and put on his robe again. And kept serving- feeding, teaching, and loving anyway. All the way to the cross. Where they forgot all they had seen and heard.

Sacrificing everything-in love- though we like the disciples only seem to excell in taking...though we fail to grasp or embrace this vision...though we become callous toward not only others, but to our Lord...though we really don't want to get our hands dirty...though we would hate and kill and betray if everything was in our hands. Even though we wish to deny this truth. How can we love as you have? -Seemingly simple and profound, yet impossible in our hands without you.
It's clear just how dirty that water has become. And how your voice is lost in our babble.

Lord, wash away all that, and then wrap your love around us.
May we stop to ponder before we walk on.
Then by your power, may your call to love each other as you have loved emerge in us, but when it does may it always be you they see.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

God changed him too

1 Samuel 1:9-18 is the prompt for the day.
On the heels of this past Sunday's lectionary texts of the "dry bones" and Lazarus, today we see the story of Hannah, mocked and taunted by her rival, Penninah who has scores of offspring while Hannah is unblessed. Weeping at the temple she confronts the priest who seemingly speaks to her first to encourage her to get lost, but God has other things in store. I first began to wonder about all of those times that we would rather chase away those who remind us of barren places, losses, poverty, dark sides we prefer to place far away lest we confront our own fears. We see it in those we pass on the street and even in churches that have lost their way yet long for new life. And it is easy to see ourselves in the Hannah role, but what about the priest?

He must have been changed too.
The God-person who sits by the doorway of the holy place.
Face to face with desperate unending pleading, and weeping
His heart as barren as her womb-
Locked up yet holding the keys.
How easy to call her a spectacle
For embodying “pray without ceasing”
And daring to believe that maybe, just maybe…
God will again create something where it seems like uninterrupted nothing.
Bring joy out of a desert of anticipated loss.
He had to be changed as implored,
Look at me-see me!

She who dared to confront him with his own dried up faith!
Remember me!
While he prefers to side with those who mock.
“I have been talking all this time, yet you do not hear me,” she says.
“Barren doesn’t fit your model of growth and success,” she says.
How easy it is to bless those who are already blessed.
Give me more than your pity, or your leftovers.
Give me your heart, praying with mine that I may have abundance too.
He had to be changed as he spoke to her, spoke with her- O Lord, hear our prayer.
Maybe he too only mouthed the prayers,
Like we do when we are so worn out, unsure but praying anyway.
Saying “may” God grant
Leaving open the question
And the seeming impossibility
That birthed new life.
How could it be that SHE changed HIM?
Lord, open our eyes and ears to those who cry to you from barren places
In all of those moments when we too
Say in our hearts- Lord only knows how this can change
Create in us fertile ground that expects
You will indeed bring forth your surprise and joy.